An Interview With Coke La Rock
Troy- Let me switch back to that Bronx River beef. That night what was you and Herc’s relationship at that time with Bam and was that commotion over Bam’s people?
Coke La Rock- Nah nothing like that it was just neighborhood cats. Because you had cats that use to be in I think the Four Corners bar. It’s just everybody controlled there own little neighborhood. That’s how that went.
Troy- What was the original crew once you and Herc started putting people down?
Coke La Rock- First Herc then me. I have to put my man on Mike Mike who was our record carrier. We started coming up in the world so Mike helped us out. There was another cat name Eldorado Mike who would hang out with us but he wasn’t official down with the crew. Then Timmy Tim, God bless him. He passed away. They were trying to call Timmy Tim little Kool Herc! That shows you how much they would follow you that they would call you that guy. Then Herc picked up Clark Kent. We were playing over at the 9 that was how we picked up Clark. Herc said he could play the music and he felt him.
By this time we were playing clubs as well as after hour spots. We would play the Hevalo and at 4 o’clock in the morning we would head over to this after hour spot called Top of the Lane, which big Willie money cats. Everybody else mostly knows of the Hill Top club which was mostly for the public. That was the commercial after hour spot on Edward L Grand highway. But the Top of the Lane was a gambling spot on Featherbed Lane. And that’s where Guy Fisher, Nickey and Nickeys body guards Big Smitty and Leroy use to hang at. We use to play there from 4 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon. So therefore we use to have to do shifts. I use to stay home to about 11, 12 o’clock at night before I would come to the Hevalo because I would play from like 3am to 3pm! See I was also the R&B side that cats didn’t really understand. Everybody thought it was just break music and beats.
I got Marvin Gaye, Donald Byrd, War, Earth Wind and Fire. I was playing that so I can say we gave you everything you wanted to hear. Herc was Tha Foundation, Timmy Tim and Clark Kent were the filling. And that’s a plain cake but that cake was gooder then a motherf—–! Sometimes people like plain cake but when Coke La Rock comes on you getting a little bit more then what you bargained for. I’m the candles that you blow out that come back on when you turn your back.
Troy- I got you. Now can you break down the rhyme situation? You are the father of Caz Moe and Mel. As well as Jay Z, T.I. and Lil Wayne. Did it start from nursery rhymes and then you stepped it up?
Coke La Rock- It was just giving out a message. (Coke starts to speak anxiously.) Really where I think it came from was when guys use to come from certain areas of hustling, I use to call their names out and call their drug out. For example I was cool with some brothers hustling down in Harlem on 126th street.
Troy- Over by Kelly’s Hotel, on St. Nicholas Avenue?
Coke La Roc- Exactly, their dope was called the Double Green, the Mean Machine and Black Tape. And when you come up to the Bronx they had some dope called Power. So if you came into the spot I would be like, “yeah we got my man Easy Al from 26th street, Double Green Mean Machine Black Tape, come get it!” You know what I am saying. Then I would take you to the Bronx and say come up to Featherbed Lane and get your Power! I had some cats in Harlem doing their thing on Amsterdam, so when they would come up I would holler them out. I would holler out what you were doing and where you came from. Then it got to a point where cats would give me money and say, “here Coke call my name out.” Then I be like, “you ain’t buying me to call your name out.” I would keep it real if I don’t feel the rock stomping then I can’t call your name out. I can’t feel you, I have to feel you! I got to feel your name in my throat. So then a cat would give me a package and if it is what it is then I would call your name. So it was like hustling and being what I am doing. But I am doing what I am doing.
Troy- Now what about the time when it came to stepping up to saying rhymes, did you ever step into that era?
Coke La Rock- Sure here goes one.
“There is not a man that can’t be thrown
Not a horse that can’t be rode
A bull that can’t be stopped
And theirs not a disco that I Coke La Rock
Here go another one for you Troy
“If a Freak is unique
Then that’s the freak you seek
Then I guess before you go
The freak will be on the bo
As long as the music is not stopping
The rocks are dropping
The champagne is flowing
The freaks will be going
You don’t tell
I won’t tell.”
Doesn’t that sound like something Sugar Hill took? So if you want to start taking bits and pieces of where it came from and who said what then don’t take out the book of memory on me because I wrote the book. Like I said we are tha foundation everybody else is the product. The rest is claim jumpers. They fighting over who played the first vinyl, come on man! That’s all that claim jumping.
Troy- Alright Coke once you started doing these rhymes that you did you were actually the first on the planet earth and then Cowboy and Hollywood were the ones that followed you?
Coke La Rock- O.K., I can get with that. But don’t forget Mele Mel. I can’t really say who came after me because once I got out of the game other then my self I didn’t classify anyone else. To me I couldn’t feel who was doing that because Herc was saying everybody is sounding like you Coke. I remember I went to the Black Door and it was Mele Mel and just Flash. And you know Mele Mel never touched the table. So from what I seen and I wasn’t in every little area people were starting to become who they were. So that’s why I don’t want to say it was Mele Mel before Cowboy or Cowboy before this one or that one.
Troy- So being as you were the first and you had no platform to stand on how did the birth of rhyming begin for you?
Coke La Rock- Its hard for me to describe it because like I said it was never in the plan. To me it was just me talking on the mic. I always had vibe, I didn’t write anything down. It wasn’t like on that stage where you came prepared like that. That’s what I was saying about guys don’t understanding about being the first. I couldn’t see that that’s what everybody really grabbed a grip of.
Troy- So your example would be more like Biggie Smalls and Jay Z, all this was done in your head and not on paper.
Coke La Rock- Right.
Troy- I got you, so how were you able to put like three sentences together at that time?
Coke La Rock- It came together just on what I was feeling and how the night was going, as well as who was in the club.
Troy- But it was a complete rhyme?
Coke La Rock- Of course, and like I said I got that talk in me like I got that talk in me now. Every rhyme I did had something to do with the party. But just like a child taking its first steps I said a small maybe one or two sentence rhymes and then they got longer. And most of the time I would rhyme to T plays it cool, which was my interdiction record. And if you notice Red Alert plays that now.
Troy- I got you.
Coke La Rock- I am not trying to hold no grudge but I remember you telling me one cat said all we said was nursery rhymes. Come on man that hit me a certain way. Nothing coming out my mouth was a nursery rhyme!
Troy- I feel you, thank you for saying that.
Coke La Rock- I was above and before my time. I was wearing jewelry and driving cars and these guys were renting coats, tux’s or outfits for big event parties. I dressed like that everyday. I stayed in A.J. Lester’s, Corterfield coats and Dobbs. And like you bought up what other cats said about me. That was how they thought they seen me, they didn’t know me. And I know they don’t know me. But like I said I rhymed over records like T Plays it Cool, but I talked over all types of records. But I would prefer rhyming over records that I knew we had that were instrumental. But say like a James Brown record etc. I would talk behind. They might say something in the record like James Brown hit me and I would start talking.
Troy- So you never heard Cowboy or any one else do there thing when you was doing you?
Coke La Rock- Nah see once I got out of the game I started hanging down in the village and going to the Paradise Garage because they had the best sound system in New York. That was before Studio 54.
Troy- Larry Lavan
Coke La Rock- Right, there you go, Larry Levan. And I knew the owner Mike Brody. Brody use to like smoking that Ill from 123rd street over by your boys with the Chunky Black. He said he felt creative once he smoked that. (Coke starts laughing.) Plus I had the Fish scale off of Broadway for them too. His partner was Noel Garcia aka the Marlboro Man. They were gay, I wasn’t, but you know that’s how that goes. But that’s that crowd. But anybody that came through New York as an entertainer came through the Paradise Garage. Sylvester was like James Brown, him and Grace Jones. She was the queen of that punk rock and house music. I seen Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Billy Ocean etc there. I would take a trip once in awhile to The Fever because that was what was going on uptown. But I knew I had to be some where on my own, that I knew I didn’t have to be watching my back to a degree.
Coke La Rock- And I wasn’t one of those cats that be in your face. I was taught if you getting a thousand dollars why would you be around cats that was only getting a hundred dollars. They are going to want to get your thousand. See you put pressure on your self that way. Just the way you see in the hip hop game you see in the street game, period. Guys run behind guys just to rob them. And see I was never a foot soldier, I was never a lieutenant I was always a boss of bosses. I was always my boss. So that’s a hustler’s hustler. That’s bigger then a hustler. Because where do the hustlers buy, from a bigger hustler! So the Boss is not a scrambler. So that’s why you haven’t heard scrambler in a while because a scrambler is out on the street going hand to hand, he’s scrambling.
Troy- You right I haven’t heard it since we were kids and we were all out there scrambling and it was as you would say fashionable to say it.Back to Herc how long did it take before you got down with Herc?
Coke La Rock- The second party he ever did in the recreation room.
Troy- So now why would he pick you instead of any one else, being as you never d.j.ed or emceed ever in your life!
Coke La rock- We were very close and to be honest with you, I was there originally because I could sell my weed. I would sell 40 nickels a night.
Troy- So when Herc started playing those beats did he amaze you the way he amazed the crowd?
Coke La Rock- Nah I couldn’t look at him like that, because quite as kept being as I was a good dancer Herc use to come and get me. I wasn’t a B boy, I was a dancer. I could do it all dance, play ball, fight! I can fight very well. So girls during that time use to do what we call, “burning people up!” As they use to call it. The girls are burning people up and Herc use to come find me and say, “Come on Coke, come and dance with her.” Herc never seen a girl burn me. So that was another reason how we got so tight. I use to go to a lot of clubs, so Herc use to come get me to dance against these girls. Some times I use to be like come on Herc. (Coke chuckles.) But that was how we got closer.
Troy- Who were some of the celebrities that came through when you guys were partying?
Coke La Rock- They didn’t come through because we were dealing with the young. See our thing was and this was what kept us strong for like 4 years. We never let the high school kids go. See when you mentioned Hollywood earlier, they caught our older crowd that got too old to continue to come to our parties. That’s when 371 and all those type of spots became who they were. See we never let the high schools go because I told Herc one day, “The high school kids always want it.” As a freshman you are always going to want to know where the people are going as seniors you should know where to go. Plus you will never run out of high schools.
Troy- So did Vietnam affect you or Herc?
Coke La Rock- No see when that came if you was going to school you was cool, so the only people that were really going was the cats that weren’t getting any paper out on the streets. During that time it was not a career move that it is now. But I did have a lot of friends that came back shell shocked. When cats came back from Vietnam they were either shell shocked our strung-out. So when you seen that you was like, “man I ain’t going to fight.” And you did the Ali, “Send me to jail!”
Troy- So you were never in that type of situation you’re self?
Coke La Rock- Never, but there was one time I thought I was going to run away and this was before the music. I was living at home with my momma and you know how you call your self getting even and saying I am going to leave. Well I went and took the test for the navy and failed it by 5 points. That was a wake up call. And it wasn’t some deep dark type situation with me and my moms because by no means was there a situation of abuse, I just wanted to get away. But I am glad it didn’t happen.
Troy- So did you stick around long enough to be there for that battle with the L- Brothers?
Coke La Rock- No I didn’t the ones I stuck around for were against Pete D.J. Jones and Disco King Mario. But I didn’t even participate in those battles because I played by the hustler rules. No one wanted to battle us until we got to the top. We had already gone through the grind. We were mobile d.j.s in the beginning. I remember Herc playing at another party before he played at his own; Herc played for Taft high school boat ride that was $50! We played a record called Rock the Boat, it was pumping. Mobile d.j.s got $150 to $250 the most. A big time d.j. would get $300. But they would rent you. I told Herc come on man I’m getting drug money. I didn’t get a pay check from Herc for a whole year. I didn’t have to. One time we went to a Bam party and that’s no disrespect to Bam because he wasn’t on the door. We get to the door they like, “oh wow Kool Herc come on in.” when they get to me they like, “Coke you have to pay $3.00.” Herc is like, “what, that’s my partner.” They like, “Herc only you can get in!” So I said alright I pulled out $3 off of my $1700. The party probably made a $150. I got more money in my pocket then you pulling at the door and I am not trying to brag but that was another thing that was turning me off was when I would go places they would treat me like I was a helper. I wouldn’t put up with any of that, and I would tell them, “I am a partner man.” Same way with the jewelry we were before every one with that also. We had the big house medallion, our jewelry was proper. We shopped at the big stores. Let me hear them say they shopped at A.J. Lester’s in Harlem. (Troy starts to laugh.) Did they shop at Laden’s? Did they get their tailor made’s at Mr. Tony’s or Mr. Ories. We were rocking Corte field coats. I bought my hats from Dobbs. I use to get my initials engraved into my valor’s. Like I said I bought my shoes at the reptile house. When they were wearing Playboys I was wearing lizards. We were shopping at Dick Gidron’s (Cadillac car dealer ship.) when cats were buying bikes! Just like Herc never drove, although now you see that picture of him driving with the speakers in the back of the caddy, I was doing the driving. Herc didn’t have a license. I drove the Eldorado, I drove the truck. I drove all the cars. I always had a fresh afro with a part on the side and the afro was always round, always stayed fresh.
Troy- When and why did you get out of the hip hop game?
Coke La Rock- I got out the game by 1979, 1980 maybe.
Troy- So you were still in the game when Herc battled the L Brothers.
Coke La Rock- Yeah I was still around but I wasn’t with all that. Some people he battled and I was there but I didn’t know any of these cats. So to me it wasn’t necessary to battle any one because we had already been on top of our game nobody was getting paper like that. To be honest all those guys that started trying to do it like us I was pretty cool with like Love Bug Starski. Meaning me and him use to kick it all the time when we seen each other. I gave him his respect not that other cats didn’t deserve it.
I was cool with Star Ski and Flash also to a degree. But everybody didn’t show that. Meaning everybody didn’t show that love with each other. If I played on the west side I couldn’t like you because you played music on the eastside. This is why all that jealousy and envy is here today because it was there in the beginning. That’s why I said I couldn’t mess with d.j.s because I didn’t know them and I didn’t care and that was because it was too much envy! I was raised how can you hate a brother if you don’t know him?
Troy- Did you have to beat down any of these dudes back in the days?
Coke La Rock- I pulled my gun on them once or twice, but I really didn’t have to do that because they knew were I was coming from. I had a great knuckle game. See plus that was a bad move to do anyway because Herc had the muscles and I had a big gun. I wasn’t trying to pump up muscles, but I could fight like I said I was real good with that. So it wasn’t so much stepping to me because it was me and Herc all the time every where. Like I said you get nothing but death this way.
Troy- (Troy laughs.) You said you get nothing but death?
Coke La Rock- That was our saying. You get nothing but death this way man.
Troy- So you weren’t there at The Galaxy robbery?
Coke La Rock- Nah I was on my way out by that time. Matter fact the cat Mandingo who did security at The Fever and all of these other spots, you know him?
Troy- Yes a real cool brother God bless him he died a couple of years ago.
Coke La Rock- Well he had one of my guns that night. I use to let him hold my 38., nothing bigger then that. Let me lay another first on you. When cats started trying to get up on us they didn’t even have turn tables to back spin. We were the first with the techniques to go backwards. Man I even remember battling a cat who bought his house speakers to the party. He had 12 little house speakers that weren’t bigger then a 2 litter soda bottle.
Troy- (Troy laughs.) you is a funny brother.
Coke La Rock- We battled another cat that had a bunch of speakers that he stole from the train station. They didn’t have money to get equipment.
Troy- I hear you, they was so into the music, by any means necessary they were going to find away.So now how did you feel the night Herc got stabbed?
Coke La Rock- Tore me up. I almost lost my mind that night. I am going to tell you Troy it was a hell of a coincidence because that night before it happened I had to use the bathroom. My apartment was like 4 blocks away from the club, The Executive Play House which was later changed to The Sparkle. So I ran home and used the bathroom because it wasn’t one of those big nights. When I left my house to get back to the club a couple of blocks away I started to see the ambulance and police cars. When I got there they had already taken Herc to the hospital. On the low I asked around who did it, who was involved? The word on the streets was it was some friends of the club. One of my people said they caught one of the dudes and they are now a victim. I told him I wasn’t satisfied take me to him and I am going to put one in his head to make sure. Cats were like, “let that go they think they got it right, go to the hospital and check on Herc because he was stabbed badly.” And that was what made me go to the hospital. When I got there I flipped out cause it hurt the hell out of me to see my man hurt like that. It bought me to tears because I had lost one of my other good friends when I was 19. Herc’s father was there and he seen that I was bugging; because I got quit and I was crying, I knew after that I was going to go on the war path. Herc’s father told Herc, “Tell Coke to wait for you before he does anything!” Herc called me in the room before they took him into the operating room. He said, “Coke I know one of them, wait for me.” I was like, “yo why are you telling me this!” Herc said it again, “wait for me.” I said alright. He said promise me that. Then when I leave out of Herc’s room his father says, “Coke let me hold your gun till tomorrow.” Then I started crying again I said, “No Mr. Campbell don’t take my gun.” He said, “I have to, you are not in your right state of mind. I know you are hurting.” I gave him my gun and the next day he gave it back to me. Then I went on the hunt, that’s how I felt about it Troy.
Troy- Damn my brother you messed up my head just listening to you tell the story. Praise God you and Herc are here today. I feel you all the way my brother.I am going to go in another direction. What were your thoughts on Rappers Delight by the Sugar Hill Gang?
Coke La Rock- Good question, me and Big Hank used to go to Junior High school together. Hank was never an emcee or a D.J. When he first got down with Sylvia I remember him taking me to New Jersey and getting the Cadillac. But to be honest by that time I had jumped out of it, I couldn’t see where it was going. But me and Hank used to hang out a lot. Hank used to always come and get me when he was going to get his money.
Troy- So when Rappers Delight came out did it make you think about the Hevalo days and think about going back to Herc and trying to do something on a record?
Coke La Rock- Nah because like I said Herc kept always doing what he was doing and I just jumped back into what I was doing which was going to work everyday getting drug money. And that was it.
Troy- So what was the chief reason for you leaving the hip hop game?
Coke La Rock- Truthfully when my son Dante La Rock was born it made me say I can’t go to jail or die for this music and somebody else raise my son.
Troy- So how could you feel safer hustling than playing music?
Coke La Rock- Because it was always there, I mean I hate to say it but well, I was always on a boss level in this game so it was never like threatening to me to be on the street getting money.
Troy- Well in all honesty to keep it official with the story did the hustling game ever catch up to you? Did you ever go behind those bars and give them some time.
Coke La Rock- The funny thing is never, I have never been locked up. I got picked up smoking some weed two years ago but nothing other than that. Ain’t that something I been around 53 years and I been around the biggest, baddest hustlers in the world. Guys have done 10, 15, 20 years in the penitentiary. As Frank Sinatra said, “I did it my way!”
Troy- So you never paid attention to the hip hop history of say Moe vs. Busy Bee, Cold Crush vs. Fantastic?
Coke La Rock- Nah the most I paid attention to was who took that name La Rock. You had the T La Rock and the late Scott La Rock, Ace La Rock. Anybody that put La Rock on there name I kind of felt something.
Troy- What was that feeling?
Coke La Rock- You wanted to be me, so I must have been doing something right. You don’t take a brothers name if he wasn’t doing what he did.
(Coke and I had to take a short pause because he was on the other telephone talking to Herc about business.)
Coke La Rock- Back to those guys with the name La Rock. Just like when Scott La Rock died I cried. A tear came to my eye and felt, “yo I don’t know you but you took my name and you had to feel the game.”
Troy- So what’s the deal with Platinum Ice Records?
Coke La Rock- Yeah I am running with Platinum Ice Records and Sedgwick and Cedar. It is still at the small stages for me and they trying to fit me in. The players involved with this is the first creators of hip hop. You got Herc, Grand Master Caz, Mele Mel, Theodore, and Busy Bee to name a few, as well as Easy Moe Bee. So we just got up into the studio and they are trying to put me into things.
Troy- Damn I am looking forward to this. So Coke La Rock do you have any parting words for the reader?
Coke La Rock- I like to say to Hip Hop, Hip Hop forever. And thank you Troy for being who you are and for acknowledging Coke La Rock as the first emcee and I appreciate that, and thank you.